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Joey Kennedy: Detaining Immigrants in Jail is Wrong Method, Wrong Message

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Two weeks ago, Detention Watch Network launched their new “Expose and Close” campaign, identifying ten of the worst immigrant detention centers in the nation and calling for them to be closed.  Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Joey Kennedy at the Birmingham News visited one of these detention centers in Gadsden, Alabama, and wrote a column today wondering why these massive detention centers must exist to detainees at all.

“Do we need the numbers of prisons and jails that we have?” he asked in his column.  Why can’t non-criminal immigrants who have been picked up, who possibly face deportation, wait for their fate via remote monitoring?   “And should noncriminal immigrants who are subject to detention be housed in a jail in basically the same condition as criminals who are being punished?”

Part of the whole problem, of course, is the whole prison industrial complex that exists to claim more prisoners for itself:

The incarceration industry lobbies Congress and state legislatures for tough, put-them-in-jail-and-throw-away-the-key laws. That helps keep our prisons full and, thus, the prison industry — especially the for-profit prison industry — happy.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts with many state and local jails and prisons where approximately 33,000 immigrants are detained on an daily basis. Etowah County has about 325 long-term detainees. ICE said  the current average length of stay for detainees in Etowah County is about 98 days. But some are there much, much longer.

Besides the incarceration industry, Cox says ICE policy itself increases the number of immigrants who are detained, especially over long periods of time. ICE has to justify its budget, and it does that, Cox says, through detention and deportations.

But a different system using ankle bracelets and monitoring technology could let immigrants stay with their families, rather than be subjected to the harsh conditions of detention facilities:

One of the problems in Etowah County, Cox says, is “there aren’t many lawyers in Alabama who do this kind of work,” so detainees have a hard time challenging their detention.

If the government can prove that an individual is dangerous to the public, then of course that person must be detained. Right now, however, many thousands of people are being locked up for long periods of time with little hope of getting the resources needed to defend their case.

Yes, a few hundred of these unfortunate individuals are humanely being cared for at the Etowah County Detention Center. But it is not a very humane system that locks up people behind thick walls and steel doors, especially people who shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Please read the full column here.